Welcome to Word Wednesday, where we will be looking at the usage and meaning of a word or pair of related words – it could be a worthy word, a weird word, or a witch word that should be excised from the dictionary. The word may come from different languages, but will mostly be in French, Spanish or English.
Because I’m in a ranting mood, today’s a witch word day.
Now, hack is in itself a good solid word. It is an attacking word. You hack a tree. You get a hacking cough. You hack into a computer.
But bad things have been done to it.
It all started when hack got used to describe a quick fix or solution (not necessarily the prettiest one) to a conundrum in the programming world. That was actually ok.
After that, though, something truly awful happened. The ‘life hack’ was introduced into our common linguistic currency. Tech writer Danny O’Brien is to blame. At a conference in 2004 he gave a presentation called “Life Hacks – Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks.” These were fixes to improve productivity outside a strictly programming environment, like managing your email mountain.
It was a clever enough turn of phrase – the first time it was used. Maybe even the second or the third. Better, it was safely confined to geekland.
Then some bloggers got hold of it. Then even more bloggers. And more and more. The world exploded with ‘life hacks’, monstrous mundanities that cause blood to leak out of my eyes every time a new list is shoved into my inbox.
Things have recently gotten even worse. Hack is being tacked onto every other word in the English language. There are gym hacks, travel hacks, brain hacks, growth hacks, even hard-boiled egg hacks. If we don’t do something soon, the entire English vocabulary will have been colonised by this once worthy, but now decidedly witchy, word.
Many of you will know that ‘hack’ has long had another meaning which I haven’t yet mentioned: a writer, especially a journalist, who specialises in the commonplace, the clichéd and the commercial.
And that, people, is exactly what a ‘life hack’ is to advice.
To finish, here’s a fantastic demolition of the life hack by the comedian, Maddox.